In 2004 a TV series hit our screens called Lost. Soon after that Heroes. They heralded a new era of a different kind of storytelling.
One with no consequences. To elaborate – if you look at a story as an equation of cause & effect, then traditionally the challenge of making a story tight, or just good, was that one flowed into the other creatively WHILST maintaining a strong internal logic.
Bruce Willis is dead at the end of Sixth Sense (effect) and suddenly EVERYTHING he has done (only ever interacting with the kid, always wearing the same clothes, never opening doors) makes sense because (cause) when he got shot at the beginning of the film, he actually died.
(Sorry – spoiler if you haven’t seen it yet. In which case – REALLY!??)
Anyway – along comes Lost and Heroes and suddenly we were hit with a thought. What if we didn’t focus on the left side of this equation (the cause) but only on the right (the effect)?
Suddenly dramatic options seemed to gain a new dimension as shows steeped in sci-fi weirdness had a texture to it that sucked in audiences not normally charmed by its usual bells and whistles.
Suddenly high concept narratives had good dramatic writing. They didn’t focus on the WHY, but on the WHAT. What does this “why” do to our characters?
It’s consequence free writing. Don’t worry if the set-up makes sense, just set it up, and then get on with it.
A tropical island with polar bears, a terrifying smog monster, and an underground hatch? How can they all be connected? WHO CARES! The important thing is, does it draw you in? In fact, the more impossible and weirder you make the set-up, the more interesting the dramatic possibilities, yeah…?
Another way of looking at is Monty Python and their unique approach to comedy. Being professional writers, their frustration when constructing a good sketch was the bow. The end. The punchline. Because coming up with an idea that’s funny? That’s one thing. Making it work? That’s another. But ENDING it satisfactorily? You’d be surprised how hard that can be. Especially if you have to churn out a number of scripts to the demanding schedule of a TV series.
Terry Gilliam was their solution. By simply linking every skit with a surreal fevered animated piece of art, they realised they didn’t have to write a punchline! And it worked. It was genius.
But it WAS a solution.
Is writing drama bereft of accountability the same thing?
Vivarium – Latin for “place of life” – is a sci fi horror (of sorts) harking back to the best traditions of The Twilight Zone.
It follows a young couple Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) living in the UK, and like a lot of happy twosomes wanting to take it to the next level, they wish to buy a house together.
So they find a random real estate agent (Jonathan Aris – AKA Anderson from Sherlock) who is creepy AF. Upon their first meeting he convinces them to follow him (by car) to a brand new development called Yonder.
All the houses there are finished and fully furbished. They are also identical, the clouds up above do not move, and there is not a single living soul (or indeed thing) for what seems like miles & miles.
Half way through the tour of a house (#9) the agent ghosts them, and somewhat bemused by what has turned out to be a very odd day, Gemma and Tom hop in their vehicle and proceed to leave.
Or, rather, they try….
In classic Twilight Zonian fashion, every block on the estate is identical and the further they drive away from #9, the more they find themselves winding back up in front of it.
And the strangeness kicks off from there. But if you want to know in what sort of ways – just check out the trailer attached to this article.
The premise is pretty much there.
And from there on in it’s a matter of finding out – what kind of story is this? Will it explain the (wonderfully stylish and definitely intriguing) set up our 2 lead characters are in? Or will it be writing without consequence?
And if it is – will the subsequent dramatic interplay between Poots and Eisenberg (2 powerhouse young actors who have worked together before on 2 other occasions – feel free to imdb it) be enough to pull you through?
Imdb says one thing. Rotten Tomatoes says another. And that’s the place of life.Antony Yee
That’s the guy from Zombieland!Sara Yee
Vivarium is NOW available to view via Video On Demand
Blu-Ray & DVD from June 2020